Thursday, March 30, 2017

Atheism In A Nutshell? Wrong

This is what the majority of theists think atheism requires you to believe:

There was nothing, and then, *poof* there was something. This gets the atheist view completely wrong. Well, I hate to say there is an "atheist view" on cosmogony, but no atheist has to accept this gross misconception that most theists think we have to adhere to.

The logic is completely wrong. Think about it. If there was nothing, how could you then have a moment later? It presupposes time exists, since you have before and after notions. But time is something—it's not nothing. Many atheists unfortunately fail to understand this, including Lawrence Krauss, who constantly refers to something as nothing, conflating the two, and bringing upon himself much justified criticism.

The fact of the matter is there never was nothing. The philosopher's "nothing" of the total and complete absence of any thing is a concept in our minds, but not something that has ever existed. Therefore we don't go from "nothing" to "something," you start with something. This meme seems to get that near the bottom. The big bang theory indeed doesn't say the universe came from nothing, because, again, nothing never existed. It says the universe came from a singularity, a point of spacetime of infinite density and energy. There may be more spacetime before the singularity, or it may be literally the first moment of all of spacetime. Either way there never was nothing, and the universe doesn't "come from" nothing. The universe has always existed—every moment—past, present, and future, in one giant spacetime block universe. The burden of proof of the existence of nothingness is on the person making the claim.

I've written a screenplay for a web series on atheism that covers this very important aspect of the origin of the universe that I hope to begin filming next month and have completed editing by the end of spring. It will cover the origin of the universe, morality, and secularism. Oh, and I will be acting in it! A million things can go wrong with it however, so I'm scared this will not ever happen. There are many points of failure, including the other actors, the cameraman, the sound guy, and our schedules. So we'll see.

But the bottom line is this: there was always something. No need for a creator.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Reality Comes In Layers And Containers

I just saw Lawrence Krauss speak about his new book, The Greatest Story Every Told — So Far, with Alan Alda at the New York Public Library. And during the event Krauss reiterated a point I want to drive home here because I think it's really important.

It has to do with how we understand scientific theories and their relationship with one another. Many people have the mistaken impression that each new scientific idea disproves all the previous ideas of a particular area. For example, before Einstein we had Newtonian physics where we had Newton's laws of motion. However, Einstein's Special and General Theory of Relativity superseded Newton's laws of motion, giving us a more accurate mathematical description of the way large objects behave.

But Einstein didn't disprove Newtonian physics, as if to say, Newton's equations fail to give us any predictive power. Newton's equations got us to the moon after all. Einstein's equations just show us where Newton's equations break down. That is, Newton's equations are a close approximation to the more accurate equations Einstein gave us, and they're accurate in a certain regime, but they break down dramatically at really fast speeds, like near the speed of light.

And where Special Relativity breaks down, General Relativity takes over. Special Relativity doesn't take into account accelerating reference frames, nor does it take into account gravity. But General Relativity didn't falsify Special Relativity. Special Relativity is still accurate in it's regime — that is to say, in it's domain of applicability. It's a description of reality at a certain level, within a certain range of circumstances. In other words, we need to think of scientific explanations as containers within other containers. Each theory or explanation is accurate within its container but not accurate outside of it. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the internal containers are false or disproven because a wider ranging theory eclipsed it.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Would A Graduated Sales Tax Work?

Would a graduated sales tax work in lieu of an income tax? Like say 8% on sales under $1,000 and 12% on sales between $1,000 and $10,000, 16% on sales between $10,000 and $100,000, and 20% on sales between $100,000 and $250,000, and 25% on sales between $250,000 and $500,000, and 30% on sales above $500,000.

This would make it impossible to find loopholes around it and to put corporations overseas to avoid paying US taxes, ensuring everyone and every corporation pays taxes whenever they spend money. Now if a corporation buys products overseas to sell in the US perhaps a matching graduated import tax could work as well.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Neil deGrasse Tyson Admits We Have No Free Will

I've been a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson for years now and had the chance to meet him a few years ago at a bar. One thing I didn't like about him was his ambiguity towards the issue of free will. It wasn't clear that he acknowledged that we don't have it in his many talks. But recently he did acknowledge that we don't have free will and that it's an illusion when talking about time in a video by Vsause3. And he acknowledges the illusion of free will due to eternalism by recognizing that our worldtubes are complete and locked into the block universe! He says this towards the end of the video below. It's definitely worth a watch.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

80 Million Americans Make Less Than $30k A Year

Much has been said about the fact that most Americans—slightly more than 50%make less than $30k a year. That's more than 80 million Americans. It's amazing that for so many workers, so much of them make barely enough money to survive. It's hard for me to accept the idea that "middle class" in 2015 means making around $29,930.

I never realized that I'd be in the top quintile of earners. In other words, I make more money than about 80% of workers in America. I don't feel privileged because I live in New York City, where the median wage is closer to $55k.

But one thing that confuses people is average income vs median income. The average is the mean; it's the total amount of income divided by the number of people. This can give misleading results because a few high income earners can off-set the average for the group. Say you want to measure the average height of 10 men. 8 of the ten men are 5'2" and 2 are 7'6". The average height of the group becomes 5'6" when in reality 80% of the men are below that height. The median will be 5'2", which is much closer to where most people in the group are. The average income in the US is about $44.5k, even though 66% of workers make less than $45k a year.

If we rose the minimum wage to $15 an hour that would increase wages for half the country. And we'd lift all workers out of poverty. But with Trump's new budget and proposals, it looks like he's going to continue a modified trickle down approach.

See the wage index for yourself on the SSA's website.

Does Government Have A Duty To Educate Its Citizens? Part 2

This is a follow up response to my original post a week ago on whether or not government has a duty to educate its citizens. I originally wrote a critique of the speech made by the first speaker, Chuck Braman, and now I'm going to write a line-by-line critique of the arguments the second speaker gave, Roberto Guzman. He writes at the blog Capitalism and Ideas and his blog post, written here, is inspired by his arguments in the debate. So without further ado:

Larry Elder makes the point that government education is similar to an item on a restaurant menu that not even the waitress would order.

Yeah, unless they can't afford private education, especially if a "free market" Republican governor like Scott Walker tries to destroy the teacher's unions.

Roughly 11% of Americans send their kids to private school, but nearly 30% of parents who work in public schools do so. In urban areas such as Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati it hovers closer to 40%. To reiterate, these are government education providers choosing to send their kids to the competing private schools.

I couldn't corroborate that 30% claim and Roberto does not include a source. The number I see is 19% of public school teachers send their kids of private schools, though 28% have tried alternatives to public schools at some point. This is definitely higher than the national average, but why are so many public educators sending their kids to private schools, especially in urban centers? Well, it's because many urban schools suck and teachers who work there know this. So if they can afford to send their kids to private schools, they will. The median high school teacher salary is $57,200, for middle school it's $55,860, and for elementary school it's $54,890. But the vast majority of Americans won't be able to afford this option, not when the national average for private school tuition is $10,003 a year. Even if it was half that, most Americans still wouldn't be able to afford it, not with 50% of Americans making less than $30,000 a year.

What about the government officials themselves? 37% of Representatives send their kids to private school. For US senators, that number is a staggering 45%. President Obama, himself a product of private education, made a big show of vetting DC public schools when he was elected. After all of the hullabaloo, he sent his daughters to the most elite private school in the capital. If government education is so great, why do its biggest advocates avoid it like tap water in Mexico?

Most members of congress are far wealthier than your average American. In 2012 the base salary for all members of the US House and Senate was $174,000 a year. Few than 3% of Americans earn that much. And this doesn't even count additional income from book selling, speeches, and gifts from lobbyists. People will always be able to pay for better private education than what the public system can offer. Nobody denies that. But this is not an argument to privatize all public education.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

STUDY: Positive Impact Of Raising New York's Minimum Wage To $15 An Hour

A year ago a study by UC Berkeley of New York state's plan to gradually raise its minimum wage from its current $9 an hour to $15 an hour by 2021 determined that the raise would result in a mostly positive outcome. With the raise signed into law by Governor Cuomo, we're going to see the effects over the next few years. So I hope the report is right. Key findings include:

  • As Cooper (2016) reports, increasing the state minimum wage from $9 to $15 will increase earnings for 3.16 million workers, or 36.6 percent of the statewide workforce. 
  • As Cooper (2016) also reports, among those getting raises, annual pay will increase 23.4 percent, or $4,900 (in 2015 dollars) on average. These estimates include a ripple effect in which some workers who already earn $15 will also receive an increase. 
  • Three industries account for nearly half of the private sector workers getting increases: retail trade (17.6 percent), health care and social assistance (18 percent), and restaurants (13.5 percent). 
  • 79.6 percent of workers in the restaurant industry in the private sector will receive a wage increase, compared to 19.6 percent in finance, insurance and real estate
Effects on businesses and consumers by mid-2021 
  • Payroll cost increases will average 3.2 percent over the entire for-profit economy. This increase is much smaller than the minimum wage increase because many businesses already pay over $15 and many workers who will get pay increases are already paid over $9, the current minimum wage. 
  • Employee turnover reductions, automation, and increases in worker productivity will offset some of these payroll cost increases. 
  • Businesses could absorb the remaining payroll cost increases by increasing prices slightly—by 0.14 percent per year over the phase-in period. This price increase is well below annual inflation of nearly 2 percent over the past five years. 
  • Price increases will be much smaller than labor cost increases because labor costs average about onefourth of operating costs. 
  • The consumers who would pay these increased prices range across the entire income distribution. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Does Government Have A Duty To Educate Its Citizens?

Last week I attended a public debate on the proposition: It is the duty of government to educate its citizens. I was and am for the proposition, but the side arguing against the motion definitely made the better case for their point of view. It was a two-on-two debate, just like my recent debate over open source information, Thankfully, Chuck, one of the two debaters arguing against the motion, whom I know and spar with regularly, put up his opening speech on his site and what I want to do here is offer my critique of it.

Chuck begins his speech arguing that "duty" only applies to individuals:

To begin, I'd like to bring some clarity to the meaning of the proposition that we’re arguing against, which is that it's the duty of the government to educate its citizens. Regarding that proposition generally, it's important to note at the outset that the term “duty” is essentially a moral term that applies to individuals. Only in a metaphorical sense can the term be applied to the government.

With the crux of the debate over "duty" it is indeed important to say what we mean by the term. I'm skeptical of objective moral duties, but as I've written in the past, I think moral obligations and duties stem from one's self in adherence to principles, in addition to our various social contracts. But this means that it's important to identify what is the purpose of government. So what is it?

The purpose of government is to ensure the rights of its citizens are protected and defended by providing a police and military force, and a judicial system to adjudicate the law. Libertarians like Chuck would agree with that. But I think governments exist for more than that. In addition to police, military, and law, the purpose of the government is to protect its citizens against the harmful natural forces of unregulated markets. If a market is like a river, you need dams to regulate against droughts and floods that naturally happen in boom and bust cycles. A completely unregulated free market will inevitably result in increased concentrated wealth in the hands of a relatively few, and will leave millions at the bottom with little ability to climb the economic ladder. Government's purpose is to recognize that and provide the necessary regulations to prevent it. This isn't to go full on socialism. This is to allow the river to flow, but implement some common sense, rational checks and balances to ensure the river flows smoothly for the largest possible number of people. The US Constitution's preamble says one of the purposes of the US government is to "promote the general Welfare". This is to ensure the society runs smoothly.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Boycott Bill Maher? Um, No. Here's What Liberals Should Boycott

I read an article today critical of Bill Maher in the Daily News arguing he should be boycotted.

There are many loud voices on the Left now calling to boycott Bill Maher and his show Real Time after he interviewed Milo Yiannopolous, the controversial "dangerous faggot" and alt-right darling. I think these calls are wrong and misguided.

We desperately need voices like Maher, who is indeed a liberal, and who calls out the Left on its hypocrisy and occasional insanity when many others on the Left aren't willing to. Without people like him, the Left will further spiral into their echo chamber where nonsense will emerge and flourish without any reflective criticism to keep it in check.

Maher is willing to talk with the "other side." He's willing to sit down with conservatives of all stripes and challenge them (and occasionally agree with them!). But it seems that most on the Left these days would rather succumb to the worst of political tribalism and never speak with those they disagree with and never concede a single point the other side makes. This is stupid.

Most importantly, Maher criticizes Islam. Yes, he commits the unspeakable crime of criticizing a religion that enables the discrimination and mistreatment of millions of women, LGBT people, religious minorities, and atheists. How dare he! For most on the Left today, any criticism of Islam at all is racism, bigotry, and Islamophobia.

This must stop. I genuinely understand the desire of the Left to want to prevent actual racism and anti-Muslim bigotry, and I don't want to enable the far Right racists. But I'm not going to play this game where Islam is untouchable, and I highly respect Maher for being consistent in criticizing anti-liberal values where ever they exist, even when it's politically incorrect.

So no, we shouldn't be boycotting Bill Maher. We as liberals should be boycotting countries like Saudi Arabia that treats women like pieces of shit and arguably worse than black people were treated in the Jim Crow south. We should be boycotting anything to do with that country, and use every opportunity we have to call out its barbarism and sexism. We should picket its embassies, and criticize its leaders without mercy, and foster international pressure for the government to change its ways. And as a country we shouldn't even consider selling them weapons until they do this.

Now I understand some people just aren't going to like Maher. I get that. But we shouldn't be boycotting everyone we dislike. There are plenty of people I don't like that I don't plan on boycotting. Maher is not a bigot for merely criticizing Islam, nor is he wrong for talking to people who disagree with liberals. The Left would just rather live in an echo chamber, and I just don't want to see it fall apart because I see that it's quickly doing that. So the Left needs figures like Maher to defend liberalism when other liberals are too afraid to out of feat of looking "Islamophobic," and to keep liberals in check. Boycott what matters.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Visualization Of Quantum Physics (Quantum Mechanics)

I've been busy lately recording projects, and finishing up on a script for a web series on atheism I hope to complete by summer. So I haven't had much time to blog. In the meantime, for you science lovers out there still perplexed by quantum mechanics (as most of us are), here's a nice video I came across that nicely visualizes many of its main components.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Make Atheism Great Again!

As I spend more and more time in the atheist community I've been beginning to notice a fairly common and recurring theme. And that is, sadly, that atheists can be just as close-minded, and dogmatic, and tribalistic, and ignorant on the issues as almost any religious person can.

Atheists have a reputation for being rational, free thinkers—more knowledgeable on religion than the religious are, and more knowledgeable on science than the general public is. There is certainly some truth to that. But there is also certainly some truth to the notion that being an atheist doesn't automatically make you rational. And it should be patently obvious to all that atheism is by no means an inoculation against irrational views.

As someone who's a very thoughtful and intellectual atheist and who's deeply familiar with most of the subjects relevant to atheism, I can say for sure that I encounter irrational views all the time among my fellow atheists, ranging from politics, to science, to a whole spectrum of social issues—and it pains me when I hear atheists say incredibly stupid things. So I'm going to outline a few problems I see in the atheist community and offer some remedies on how atheists can fix them.

1) Stop saying philosophy is dead. The one thing that pisses me off the most that I keep hearing atheists say over and over is that "philosophy is dead because hey, we've got science now!" This is a very popular view among atheists that is also ceaselessly reiterated by some of the most high profile people in the community, most notably Stephen Hawkins and Lawrence Krauss. But they're completely wrong and here's why.

Science can never replace philosophy because they do too different things. Science is an epistemology, it's a series of methods for understanding the world we experience that uses hypotheses, repeatable experiments, and formulating theories that explain facts. But not every fact is best obtained through science, and indeed, science itself has to make philosophical assumptions that it cannot prove. For example, what the scientific method should be  and what science is (and there are disagreements) cannot be resolved by science, it has to be resolved by philosophy. And this means philosophy is more fundamental to science, and covers a wider range of topics.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Cost Of Corporate Welfare

I'm back, with a new look. My site now has a white background with black font for all of you who were having trouble reading it before. The old colors did effect my eyes a little too, especially when switching between sites with different backgrounds. So I hope you enjoy.

I ran across a post a few months ago about the cost of corporate welfare to the average American Family. As reported by Common Dreams, The Average American Family Pays $6,000 a Year in Subsidies to Big Business.

If this is true it's staggering. The sources seem pretty legit, citing, among others, the Cato Institute, which is a libertarian think tank, no friend of big government.

The $6,000 a year price tag bottoms down to:

1. $870 for Direct Subsidies and Grants to Companies
2. $696 for Business Incentives at the State, County, and City Levels
3. $722 for Interest Rate Subsidies for Banks
4. $350 for Retirement Fund Bank Fees
5. $1,268 for Overpriced Medications
6. $870 for Corporate Tax Subsidies
7. $1,231 for Revenue Losses from Corporate Tax Havens

Both liberals and libertarians should join sides and work together to end corporate subsidies and send that money back to working families. I could sure use an extra $6,000 a year. The Federalist examined this article and has determined that the actual cost is $2,436 per year. They cut out numbers 3, 4, 5, and 7 from their list, probably because, as a libertarian leaning organization, they're fine with interest rate subsidies for banks, retirement fund bank fees, overpriced medications, and corporate tax havens. Other interpretations of the source that make this argument have the total at $4,000 per family. Regardless of whether it's $6,000, $4,000, or $2,436, it's too much, and we need to set ideologies aside and work together to end corporate welfare.

Time For A New Look

So I've had a few people complain that it's hard to read my site because of the white text on the black background and that I should change the color. Technically, the text on my sight is a light gray, and the background is not truly black. But the point's taken.

The reason why my site background is black is because I read years ago that black backgrounds use less power than white backgrounds, and that by turning millions of websites black we can save tons of energy. Well, I did some recent research on this and it turns out this isn't true. For LCD monitors—the flat kind that almost everyone uses, they don't use any more power to keep the screen white than black, and in fact might even use less power for a white screen. The old CRT monitors did use more power for a white screen background, but nobody in first world countries uses them anymore.

So the original reason why I made my site black turns out to be false. As such, I am planning to make my site background white, or maybe a light gray, and the text black, as most sites are. I'm keeping the same font, however, because I like it. So expect some aesthetic changes in the near future here.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

I Would Let Milo Speak On Campus, Under One Condition

A week ago the "dangerous faggot" Milo Yianopoulos was scheduled to speak at Berkeley University in California and some students violently protested and set fire to parts of the campus in opposition to him speaking there. This was widely reported in the news, and even the president tweeted that he'd withhold federal money from the campus if the university didn't allow free speech.

Much has been said about the kerfuffle, from how intolerant the Left is, to how all this protesting just raises Milo's profile, to how hateful his speech is. But I have a proposal. If I were the head of a university making the decision on whether or not an alt-righter like Milo gets to speak on my campus my policy would be this. I would allow Milo to speak on one condition. If he wants to speak on my campus, the format will be a debate. That's right. He can spew all his nonsense talk about how "Catholics are right about everything," but not in a way that it goes unchallenged. It's a debate or nothing. That's it.

I'm sure Milo wouldn't have a problem with that. Would he? The thing is, the Left indeed has lost the ability to debate and defend their views. They rely far too much on feelings and persecution complexes. The Left needs to learn how to debate again. And I'd use this as an opportunity to find the person who can best debate Milo and make it a must-see spectacle for all.

That just brings up one question: who's the best person on the Left to debate the dangerous faggot? I'd love to debate him, but I'm unfortunately a nobody. So this is an open question for me. Anyone properly debating him must be familiar with his arguments. Some generic Leftist who doesn't "get it" would be destroyed. Perhaps Kyle Kulinkski of Secular Talk? Hmm.

Just a thought.

Is Supporting The Rights Of Muslims Hypocrisy?

I'm a part of several politically oriented groups on Facebook and recently this meme below showed up on my feed by a conservative showing an apparent hypocrisy in what Democrats do:

The thing is, you can support someone's civil rights even without agreeing with them on their political and social attitudes. Anyone who knows me or has read my blog knows I'm one of the biggest critics of Islam there is. I detest almost everything about Islam. But I will respect and stand up for the rights and civil liberties of Muslims to not be unfairly discriminated against and mistreated.

What does "Dixon Diaz" think Democrats should do? Fight for the removal of civil liberties from Muslim people in the US because we may disagree with them on certain things? Think of it this way. Should I, as a Democrat, stand up for the rights of Republicans to not be discriminated against even though I vehemently oppose their views? I'm sure every Republican would say "yes." In fact, many Republicans are complaining now that Democrats and liberals aren't standing up for the free speech of Republicans, particularly on college campuses. So there you go.

Now it's one thing to support someone's civil rights, it's another thing to support their agenda. I'm against supporting the agenda of Muslims who do not agree with the very civil rights I'd protect, who instead support regressive laws and policies. But I still think they deserve basic civil liberties. Liberals just need to be fully aware of this distinction, and so do conservatives like the guy who made this meme. Supporting someone's civil rights does not entail you support their views. And without doing this, no one would have any rights.


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